The 9 Biggest Movies To Watch This Fall (And Other Films That Sound Intriguing)

Sep 4, 2021
Originally published on September 9, 2021 10:52 am

After stockpiling films for more than 16 months, Hollywood is practically bursting with prestige attractions ready to premiere.

Summer popcorn pictures primed the pump, getting roughly 90% of North American cinemas open. Now, with much of the public vaccinated — especially older audiences who tend to patronize the sort of films that open in the fall — the flow is finally getting back to something approaching normal.

Yes, things are still in flux, and we'll have to wait a little big longer for some other anticipated movies. But with Hollywood in the enviable position of having kept its biggest guns holstered, autumn looks to be flush with potential awards contenders (Dear Evan Hansen, House of Gucci), intriguing indies (Passing, Language Lessons), and obvious crowd-pleasers (No Time To Die) that would normally have been busting blocks midsummer.

With the caveat that some of these release dates could still change, here's some crystal-ball gazing at what looks most promising.

Dear Evan Hansen

Sept. 24 in theaters

The 2015 Tony Award-winning musical arrives in movie theaters a couple of months before it returns to Broadway, and the film version boasts original star Ben Platt reprising his performance as a socially anxious teen tasked by his therapist with writing letters to himself. When one letter goes astray, Hansen gets caught in a web of well-intentioned lies that spiral out of his control.

Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) and Jared Kalwani (Nik Dodani) in Dear Evan Hansen.
Erika Doss/Universal

The Many Saints Of Newark

Oct. 1 in theaters and on HBO Max

A prequel to The Sopranos, with James Gandolfini's son Michael portraying Tony Soprano as a high school student. Alessandro Nivola plays his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti, the father of Christopher Moltisanti (who was played in the TV series by Michael Imperioli). It should attract a veritable mob of Sopranos fans.

The cast of The Many Saints Of Newark.
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Harder They Fall

Oct. 6 in theaters

Some 25% of cowboys were Black, but there have been few Westerns that have looked remotely like the fiery revenge tale director Jeymes Samuel has cooked up, with Idris Elba, Regina King, Zazie Beetz, Jonathan Majors, Delroy Lindo and LaKeith Stanfield.

Regina King as Trudy Smith in The Harder They Fall.
David Lee/Netflix

No Time To Die

Oct. 8 in theaters

Daniel Craig's final crack at 007 was among the first films to delay opening because of the pandemic. It was originally set to open in April of last year, then April of this year, and now it's finally hit a date that looks like it'll stick. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) will pit him against Rami Malek's diabolical (just check out the name) Lyutsifer Safin.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) drive through Matera, Italy, in No Time To Die.
Nicola Dove / Danjaq LLC and MGM

The Last Duel

Oct. 15 in theaters

One of two Ridley Scott period pieces this fall to star Adam Driver, this 14th century epic finds Driver accused of raping Matt Damon's wife, leaving the hubby with just one option — a duel to the death. Conceived by Damon and Ben Affleck (who plays a count), and co-written by Nicole Holofcener, the story is the tale of the last royally sanctioned duel in France.

Dune

Oct. 22 in theaters and streaming on HBO Max

Timothée Chalamet is king-in-training Paul Atreides in director Denis Villaneuve's take on Frank Herbert's novel (the bestselling in sci-fi history). The spice trade is booming, the planet Arakis is a deathtrap, and the supporting cast includes Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Charlotte Rampling and Javier Bardem. No wonder there's talk of a whole Duniverse to come.

Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet in Dune.
Warner Bros. Studios

The French Dispatch

Oct. 22 in theaters

Wes Anderson's tribute to old-school journalism, though it's set in a French town among American expat writers, draws its inspiration from the rarefied magazine culture of The New Yorker. Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand and Owen Wilson are on hand to aid and abet Anderson's characteristically charming weirdness.

Bill Murray and Pablo Pauly in The French Dispatch.
Searchlight Pictures

Tick Tick Boom

Nov. 12 in theaters and Nov. 19 on Netflix

The autobiographical musical that Jonathan Larson wrote before he penned Rent is the opus Lin-Manuel Miranda chose for his directing debut. The Hamilton creator has frequently cited Larson as his inspiration. He cast Andrew Garfield as Larson, and Bradley Whitford as Stephen Sondheim (who was Larson's inspiration). Quite the pedigree.

Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson and Alexandra Shipp as Susan in Tick Tick Boom.
Macall Polay/Netflix

King Richard

Nov. 19 in theaters and on HBO Max

Will Smith is Richard Williams, a tenacious dad who's convinced, despite what everyone keeps telling him, that his daughters are going to be great at tennis. Their names? Venus and Serena.

Will Smith stars as Richard Williams in King Richard.
Warner Bros. Studios

Other films to keep your eyes on

Language Lessons (Sept. 10) — Covid restrictions are turned into an asset in a smartly scripted, bittersweet two-hander starring Natalie Morales as a Spanish teacher and Mark Duplass as her reluctant student.

The Card Counter (Sept. 10) — Director Paul Schrader's revenge con thriller stars Oscar Isaac as a poker player and Tiffany Haddish as the operator who stakes him.

Cry Macho (Sept. 17) – Clint Eastwood directs and stars in a bring-the-kid-back-alive neo-western about a man who's realized that macho isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye (Sept. 17) — With Jessica Chastain as the titular televangelist, and Andrew Garfield as her hubby and fellow evangelist Jim Bakker.

Old Henry (Oct. 1) – Tim Blake Nelson stars in Potsy Ponciroli's "elevated" western about a farmer whose past as a gunslinger emerges when his son finds a stranger with a bullet in his gut.

Bergman Island (Oct. 18) — A couple stays in the house where Ingmar Bergman wrote many of his classics — imagine sleeping in the bed from "Scenes From A Marriage" — in a film that name-checks most of his films.

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing.
Edu Grau / Sundance Institute

Passing (Oct. 27) — Rebecca Hall's luminous black and white adaptation of Nella Larsen's novel about a '20s resident of Harlem who has been passing for white. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga star.

Eternals (Nov. 5) — Marvel's superheroes have been lying in wait for the Deviants for 7,000 years. Now they have seven days to stop them (clearly time management isn't their forte).

Spencer (Nov. 5) — Kristen Stewart stars as Princess Diana ... 'nuff said.

Belfast (Nov. 12) — Kenneth Branagh calls this tale of a young, working class Irish boy in the trouble-ridden 1960s his most personal film.

Adam Driver (Maurizio Gucci) and Lady Gaga (Patrizia Reggiani) in House Of Gucci.
Fabio Lovino / MGM and Universal

House of Gucci (Nov. 24) — The other Adam Driver-starring, Ridley Scott-directed true story of the fall. Driver plays the fashion designer whose wife Patrizia (Lady Gaga) had him killed.

Encanto (Nov. 24) — Disney's animated story of Mirabel, the only ungifted member of a family with magical powers, has a score by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Correction: 9/05/21

A previous version of this story incorrectly named the director of Old Henry. The director's name is Potsy Ponciroli.

Clarification
An entry for The Duke has been removed because the release date was pushed back.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As "Shang-Chi," "F9" and a few other crowd-pleasers hit theaters this summer, audiences got reacquainted with going out to the movies. Ninety percent of U.S. cinemas are open. And while the film business usually quiets down in cooler weather, that may not happen this time. In his fall movie preview, critic Bob Mondello notes that for more than a year, Hollywood has been saving its biggest budget debuts.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: James Bond has a license to kill, but no one wanted that to apply to movie patrons.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NO TIME TO DIE")

LASHANA LYNCH: (As Nomi) I get why you shot him.

NAOMIE HARRIS: (As Eve Moneypenny) Yeah, well, everyone tries at least once.

MONDELLO: So theater owners held their breath as Daniel Craig's final 007 flick slid from April of last year to April of this year...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NO TIME TO DIE")

RALPH FIENNES: (As M) Come on, Bond. Where the hell are you?

MONDELLO: ...To finally a fall date that looks like it'll stick.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NO TIME TO DIE")

DANIEL CRAIG: (As James Bond) You can imagine why I've come back to play.

MONDELLO: At almost three hours, "No Time To Die" is potentially a billion-dollar picture worldwide, too big in a lot of ways to relegate to a streaming service. And what's true for Bond is just as true for Marvel as it unveils a new batch of superheroes who call themselves Eternals.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ETERNALS")

GEMMA CHAN: (As Sersi) I came here 7,000 years ago to protect humans from the deviants.

MONDELLO: Seven thousand years, eh? If you're an Eternal, time management is apparently not your forte.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ETERNALS")

RICHARD MADDEN: (As Ikaris) How long do we have?

SALMA HAYEK: (As Ajak) Seven days.

MONDELLO: 'Twas ever thus, right? Also doing a bit of world-protecting, Timothee Chalamet is a king in training in "Dune," the latest adaptation of sci-fi's biggest-selling novel ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUNE")

TIMOTHEE CHALAMET: (As Paul Atreides) My father rules an entire planet.

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: (As Gaius Helen Mohiam) He's losing it.

CHALAMET: (As Paul Atreides) He's getting a richer one.

RAMPLING: (As Gaius Helen Mohiam) He'll lose that one, too.

MONDELLO: There's talk of a whole cinematic Duniverse (ph) on the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUNE")

RAMPLING: (As Gaius Helen Mohiam) Arrakis is a death trap.

MONDELLO: And with so many films having delayed openings the same weekend "Dune" premieres, Chalamet will pop up on other screens in Wes Anderson's latest weirdness, "The French Dispatch."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FRENCH DISPATCH")

CHALAMET: (As Zeffirelli) I'm naked, Mrs. Krementz.

FRANCES MCDORMAND: (As Lucinda Krementz) I can see that.

MONDELLO: Also butting heads this fall will be two true-story Adam-Driver-starring Ridley Scott epics, if you can believe that - "The Last Duel," where Driver faces an accusation.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST DUEL")

JODIE COMER: (As Marguerite de Carrouges) He attacked me.

ADAM DRIVER: (As Jacques Le Gris) The accusation is false.

MONDELLO: It's the 14th century, so her hubby, Matt Damon, has just one option.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST DUEL")

MATT DAMON: (As Jean de Carrouges) I request a duel to the death.

MONDELLO: "The Last Duel" is told from the viewpoint of each of its main characters, so Driver at least gets his say.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST DUEL")

DRIVER: (As Jacques Le Gris) I am innocent.

DAMON: (As Jean de Carrouges) Let us let God decide.

MONDELLO: Driver will be less lucky in Ridley Scott's "House Of Gucci," where he plays the fashion designer whose wife...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOUSE OF GUCCI")

DRIVER: (As Maurizio Gucci) She's a handful.

MONDELLO: ...Had him killed. His wife is played by Lady Gaga.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOUSE OF GUCCI")

LADY GAGA: (As Patrizia Reggiani) I don't consider myself to be a particularly ethical person, but I am fair.

MONDELLO: Cinemas will be teeming with other gangster types this fall, including in "The Many Saints Of Newark," a gangster you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Antonio Soprano.

MONDELLO: ...Just a lot younger than you knew him - in high school.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK")

VERA FARMIGA: (As Livia Soprano) He's got a D-plus average.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Mrs. Jarecki) Well, he doesn't apply himself. But the results tell us he's a leader.

MONDELLO: Got that right - and played by James Gandolfini's son Michael. Other movie scammers include gambler Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish, who stakes him, in "The Card Counter."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE CARD COUNTER")

TIFFANY HADDISH: (As La Linda) You have to be the strangest poker player I ever met.

OSCAR ISAAC: (As William Tell) Oh, you have no idea.

MONDELLO: In the film "Beta Test," there are techies who think they've found an illicit path to wealth.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BETA TEST")

PJ MCCABE: (As PJ) These rich people - they don't have Facebook or anything. But you can bet these mothers have Venmo.

MONDELLO: Lower tech folks in "Queenpins" sell the virtues of coupon counterfeiting, though a small-town detective is skeptical.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "QUEENPINS")

PAUL WALTER HAUSER: (As Ken Miller) They call it the coupon high. Supposedly, it's better than intimacy with another person, so I've been told.

KRISTEN BELL: (As Connie Kaminski) Sorry. Have you not used a coupon, or have you not had sex?

HAUSER: (As Ken Miller) What happened?

MONDELLO: And "The Duke" is about a 1960s thief who swiped a painting from London's National Gallery and became a folk hero when he offered to return it if the government invested in better health care.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DUKE")

HEATHER CRANEY: (As Debbie) How do you plead?

JIM BROADBENT: (As Kempton Bunton) Not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Yeah.

JAMES WILBY: (As Judge Aarvold) For those unfamiliar with court proceedings, that was the plea not the verdict.

MONDELLO: "The Duke" is based on a true story, as is "The Eyes Of Tammy Faye" starring Jessica Chastain.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE")

CHERRY JONES: (As Rachel LaValley) Tammy Faye, what'd you do?

JESSICA CHASTAIN: (As Tammy Faye Bakker) Hello, mother. This is Jim Bakker, my husband.

MONDELLO: She sang. He preached.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE")

ANDREW GARFIELD: (As Jim Bakker) If everyone watching could double their pledge just for one night...

(As Jim Bakker) God loves you. He really does.

MONDELLO: And evangelism was their oyster until...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE")

CHASTAIN: (As Tammy Faye Bakker) We're not doing anything wrong, though.

GARFIELD: (As Jim Bakker) Is that a question?

MONDELLO: Also based on real life - Kristen Stewart playing Princess Diana in "Spencer." And in "King Richard," Will Smith is a tenacious California father who, despite what everyone tells him, just knows his girls are going to be great at tennis.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KING RICHARD")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) The chances of achieving the kind of success that you're talking about is just very, very unlikely.

WILL SMITH: (As Richard Williams) OK. You making a mistake, but I'm going to let you make it. Watch them hit a few balls.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) All right. So tell me your names again.

SANIYYA SIDNEY: (As Venus Williams) I'm Venus.

DEMI SINGLETON: (As Serena Williams) I'm Serena.

MONDELLO: So they hit a few balls.

SMITH: (As Richard Williams) So what do you think?

MONDELLO: Documentaries will chronicle other real lives from one called "Julia"...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "JULIA")

JULIA CHILD: (As herself) This is Julia Child. Bon appetit.

MONDELLO: ...To fabled authors in "The Capote Tapes" and "Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time." Also, the Swedish teenager who played Tadzio in "Death In Venice" then spent decades trying to live down headlines that had called him the most beautiful boy in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONDELLO: Enough reality, you say? Well, how about some animated kid flicks? One's about a buddy robot.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RON'S GONE WRONG")

ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: (As Ron) Hi, insert registered name. I am your - your - your...

MONDELLO: It's called "Ron's Gone Wrong." Disney's "Encanto" is about a family where everyone's got magical powers except Mirabel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ENCANTO")

STEPHANIE BEATRIZ: (As Mirabel) Gift or no gift, I am just as special as the rest of my family.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Maybe your gift is being in denial.

MONDELLO: And what could be better in a family film than family bonding...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ADDAMS FAMILY 2")

ISAAC: (As Gomez) We are going on a road trip.

MONDELLO: ...Except maybe an "Addams Family 2."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ADDAMS FAMILY 2")

CHLOE GRACE MORETZ: (As Wednesday) This is cruel, even for you.

MONDELLO: And for adults, there are genre flicks, including a quartet of Westerns. In Jane Campion's "The Power Of The Dog," Montana rancher Kirsten Dunst tries to protect her family from Benedict Cumberbatch.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE POWER OF THE DOG")

KIRSTEN DUNST: (As Rose) He's just a man, only another man.

MONDELLO: In another, Tim Blake Nelson stars as a farmer...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OLD HENRY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) You didn't hold that pistol like any farmer I've ever seen.

MONDELLO: ...Called "Old Henry."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OLD HENRY")

TIM BLAKE NELSON: (As Henry) Listen to me. What's going to happen will happen quick.

MONDELLO: In the shoot-em-up "The Harder They Fall," Idris Elba and Regina King head an all-star Black cast.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HARDER THEY FALL")

IDRIS ELBA: (As Rufus) I know who you are - the angel who hunts down those who trespass against him with no mercy.

MONDELLO: And Clint Eastwood is all mercy in "Cry Macho," a bring-the-kid-back-alive neo-Western.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CRY MACHO")

CLINT EASTWOOD: (As Mike) This macho thing is overrated - just people trying to be macho to show that they've got grit. That's about all they end up with.

MONDELLO: Eastwood also directed "Cry Macho." Another actor who directs, Kenneth Branagh, has called "Belfast" his most personal film, an Irish working-class 1960s story.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BELFAST")

JAMIE DORNAN: (As Pa) Kids the same age as ours are getting killed. We can give these boys a better chance than we ever had.

MONDELLO: Edgar Wright's time travel fright fest "Last Night In Soho" is set in that same period. And the musical Jonathan Larson wrote before he wrote "Rent" is set a decade later.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TICK, TICK... BOOM!")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) This is the life, bo-bo-bo-bo-bohemia.

MONDELLO: It's called "Tick, Tick... Boom!" because its autobiographical composer hero feels his time slipping away.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TICK, TICK... BOOM!")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character, singing) Bo-bo-bo-bo-bo.

MONDELLO: The fall also has many films about grief. It haunts the parents linked by tragedy in "Mass," the characters in the lush 1920s romance "Mothering Sunday" and the bittersweet indie flick "Language Lessons." And then there's the anxious high school student whose therapy, writing letters to himself...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEAR EVAN HANSEN")

BEN PLATT: (As Evan) Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be...

MONDELLO: ...Takes on a life of its own in a musical that transfixed sold-out Broadway crowds before the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "DEAR EVAN HANSEN")

PLATT: (As Evan, singing) On the outside always looking in, will I ever be more than I've always been because I'm tap, tap, tapping on the glass.

MONDELLO: "Dear Evan Hansen" will reopen on Broadway in December, but audiences can see it at the multiplex in just a couple of weeks. Finally, no more pandemic-era tap, tap, tapping on the box office window.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "DEAR EVAN HANSEN")

PLATT: (As Evan, singing) While I'm watch, watch, watching people pass. I'm waving through a window, oh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.